“Bill Frisell shown us that it’s not because you have a guitar in your hands that you have to play guitar” Marc Ribot
This quote from an interview I read in my late teens struck me, and stuck with me other the years.
No matter what style you play, it’s important as a guitarist to listen to other instruments, and to be inspired by their approach.
When you play jazz, it’s more or less implied that you’ll deal with Horn lines when you play be-bop, but you can/should dig deeper in piano players for harmony and voicings, bass player and drums for swing and interaction, etc…
Like many guitarists, for a long time I wanted to play like Bill Evans. I never did, but I’ve learn things that I would have never learn from guitarists.
Trying to play things that are not meant for your instrument will force you out the contort zone, you may have to find new playing-technics, or develop further already existing one.
For guitarists, ‘legato’ (pull on and pull off) is not a new technic, but in the 70’s, when trying to sound like John Coltrane, Allan Holdsworth set a new standard in legato, that ended being followed by many metal-guitarist (more than traditional jazz-guitarist, but that’s a different story…). Just before him, John McLaughlin had the same goal but developed a completely different technic.
Wanting to sound like a piano, George Van Eps decided to add a 7th lower string to his archtop Epiphone in 1938. In his hand, the guitar is a real polyphonic instrument, I’d even say ‘contrapuntal’ instrument as it’s melodic lines happening at once and not so much chords. His influence on guitarist -in jazz and country music- is huge despite the fact that his music itself isn’t that heard. The list of his descendent is too long to be featured here…
A very important aspect for guitar, is to actually try to play drums on your instrument. I’m not only talking about the percussions on the body of the guitar, it’s only one (flashy) aspect of it. I’m talking about the interaction between the different elements of the drum kit. Whether playing with or without drums, drums should always be on your mind. Charlie Hunter talks a lot about this aspect in interviews.
In a drumless context, you’ll have a very effective accompaniment, that will sound much bigger than your usual guitar tricks if you base your accompaniment on quick drum / snare patterns. It’s actually very easy to practice : take any drums book, take any pattern, and try applying it to the guitar. The basic approach will be to attribute the quick drum part to the bass, and the snare to the a chord.
To demonstrate that, I’ve taken the first page of ‘funk patterns’ that I’ve found online, this one’s from Todd Bishop, and played through it doing this : quick drum = root note, snare = chord.
On example 1 and 2, I stayed on one chord.
On example 3 and 4, I go from the I chord to the V (in Gmin that’s Gmin and D7)
On example 5 and 6 I play the chord sequence Gmin9 C13 Fmin9 Bb13 with a little root – fifth movement now and then.
On example 7 I read through the line without repeats, and play a chord progression of 2 bars Amin Gmin FMaj7 BbMaj7.
This is a just a quick basic example of this approach, you can apply that on any rhythm, chord progression, bass lines that you can think of. It’s an endless source of practice material: you’ll never say again “I don’t know what to practice ?”. I’ve open the door, the rest is up to you.
Practice as a drummer will make you a better guitarist: I promise.
Next week I’ll talk more about the piano approach, with a transcription I made of “Flashes” : a piano piece by trumpetist Bix Beiderbecke played by Ry Cooder on his album “JAZZ”.